New app tackles Sydney graffiti

6th April 2013 Jonathan Andrews

Citizens in Sydney, Australia, are turning to GPS app-enabled technology to assist police, local councils and businesses in the fight against graffiti.

The Vandaltrak app, launched at the end of 2012, coincides with an earlier launched website, where anyone in the community can report and record graffiti by uploading photos from a digital camera or mobile phone. Since then over 2,000 people have downloaded the app.

“The idea began as the system for recording, reporting and removing graffiti was dysfunctional,” Chris Winslow, spokesman for Vandaltrak, told Cities Today from Sydney. “Police, utilities, councils, businesses and volunteer groups each had different systems.”

The free app uses a single platform whereby anyone can report graffiti. GPS coordinates fix the precise location of the graffiti tags, with the intelligence then available to law enforcement, participating local councils, public utilities and community clean-up groups. Councils, however, do need to pay from A$2,000 (US$2,086) up to A$6,000 a year to access the database.

“For cities, the potential savings are enormous,” emphasised Winslow. “Here, every report of graffiti received by police requires two officers to get in the car, go to the scene, take a picture, go back to the station, file a report. Vandaltrak lays information before the police to a degree that would otherwise be impossible.”

Quakers Hill, one police local area command (LAC) in Sydney that was one of the first in trialling the use of the technology reported a drop in graffiti levels of 49 percent from 2011 to 2012. Winslow explained that 16 offenders were caught in which none have so far reoffended.

“This equates to a A$1 million saved on the clean-up bill on all properties, not just councils,” he added. “Our system has also saved Quakers Hill LAC the equivalent of A$200,000 of staff time and resources.”

Those graffiti artists intent on using a variety of tags to avoid detection will still be caught said Winslow. “We correlate them using various techniques. And in the end, someone informs on them anyway. It might be their ex-girlfriend or their mother.”

The technology is gaining interest in New Zealand and other jurisdictions across Australia. Vandaltrak is also looking at using the app for reporting illegal dumping, or fly-tipping, and are in advanced discussions with several organisations.

A ‘Doomsday book of tags’ is being looked into to set up a base line to then analyse volunteer clean-up days and establish a Graffiti Census Day.

“We’re just a bunch of concerned citizens, who had had enough and wanted to reclaim their neighbourhoods from meaningless vandalism,” said Winslow. “The app is a means to an end.”

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